What's going on at Ballin Temple?
More than we expected, especially as Ireland has been under lockdown all year so far. If you've seen some of the posts on social media you'll have an inkling of how busy we've been. In order to keep the fires burning we were doing a lot of logging since January as our wood stock had expired. Although it's not light work it always feels good to be in the woods hauling lumber - it's fresh out there. In addition we got an invitation to clear some trees from around a barn at Headfort School where my brother has helped relaunch the friendly well equipped country school near Kells. When we got there we found out it was a massive job as no maintenance had been done for 25 years. Luckily I had with me certified tree ninja Jonas Holland Brennan who was able to swing like Tarzan with a chainsaw and remove trees rooted to the roof of the barn!
Jonas also did us a huge favour of reducing a couple of overgrown trees in the garden. (I'm too nervous to climb a tree with a saw any more (mostly).) Crowning the trees was a decision we'd put off for years because we don't like cutting trees, but the positive effects are already noticed and we've planted several saplings around the smallholding already this year. The two trees overshadowed the garden and the plots and provided a handy vantage point from which vermin could fly in and peck at seeds or poultry eggs. Now the garden is warmer and lighter and the crows, magpies and pigeons have more difficulty getting in, though they still do.
The last couple of weeks have been spent manically trying to catch up on the spring planting. A kind donation of manure from Padraig Byrne will have a positive effect on soil fertility - we're spread more than half of the 16 tonne load. Phew!! Broad beans were first to go in (over 2,000) and the onions (~800). Both are showing their heads now. Spuds went in (~900) as that hard frost hit a week ago. Hopefully they're not too affected by the cold. (Here's a little video on tying fleece down, though with the wind these days cement blocks or similar are almost essential.) Most of the leaves plot is sown and we've direct sown brassicas for the first time, i.e. not seedlings. Hopefully they'll get ahead of the weeds and give a crop. And we only sowed the tomatoes (~200) last weekend so they might not be as tall as usual. It is not normal to need irrigation at this time of year, but we're basically having a drought so although it's April (i.e. "April showers") we're watering everything!
We've also launched a gardening course which is challenging us to share helpful stories of our experience over the past 20 years as well as deliver a kind of TV production as it is a live broadcast (with access to the recorded sessions later if needed). Luckily Pam is an excellent director, cameraman and editor. The course is seven sessions, the last Saturday of the month from March to September, so everyone can see the progression of the garden during the growing season. It's not just a simple gardening course though, it is much wider ranging to encompass many of the activities pursued on a smallholding, like logging, animal husbandry, infrastructure, marketing, family etc. Check out the intro video or some of the snippets we've posted. The Smallholder's Garden offers a different approach which is an amusing diversion from the normal video entertainment. Join any time as you can watch previous sessions' recordings. Next session this Saturday April 24.
After several failed attempts we've managed to incubate goose eggs and now have 4 one week old goslings. We had five until yesterday when the weakest one caught itself in the heat lamp and died. That kind of accident is why I've shied away from animal husbandry - the responsibility of life and death. But it is good to have the new goslings and if they make it through the next month or so they'll be out clipping the grass in time for summer!
Moving on to smaller animals, insects in fact, the bees survived the winter - hooray! - and we've made new hive boxes, which now need roof and floor, so might expand the buzzing habitat this year if we are lucky.
Fishing is open. Although we do not promote the activity and lean more to conservation and nurturing the natural environment, we have welcomed a couple of new members who have taken a season weekday rod - thank you John and Anthony. We keep the numbers on the river low but would welcome a few more season rods with similar conservation ethics as they help keep an eye on the river and protect it from poaching and abuse.
Pam has started teaching yoga after the Easter break again. Check out PamButlerYoga.com to sign up for the ever popular Tuesday evening class (zoom or Tullow) or the Friday morning class (zoom or Ballin Temple). She is also offering private sessions and workshops will be announced as they come up. Yoga has become more popular in the past year as it is an activity that one can do at home and which can help with emotional stress which has been increased by the pandemic. Pam has free resources available on her website and social media to inspire your practice.
On the subject of health and the pandemic, information seems very varied from the political aspect of the freedom or not to choose masking, vaccination etc to the epidemiological aspects of surviving and enjoying life. We had a covid household in January and symptoms varied from almost none to a few days of being "out of commission" followed by some symptoms of "long covid". What helped was rest and healthy eating as with any flu and being in a clean environment i.e. NATURE! (We are lucky.) The outlook remains difficult to plan as the infection rates remain high, vaccines have partial efficacy, variants are increasing and too many people in positions of responsibility are still talking about "back to normal" which is clearly a non-starter. Our outlook has been sanguine for many years now but enjoying life is certainly helped by having fresh air to breathe, clean water to drink and wildlife in the neighbourhood. We hope you can enjoy those simple pleasures. The lockdown certainly seems to be helping wildlife as we've seen more squirrels than spotted for a few years now and had our first owl sighting a week ago. Consider joining the nature club here to enjoy and protect the little nature sanctuary here on the banks of the Slaney.
We have some grass livery available for friendly horses or donkeys and will be cutting hay for small bales in a couple of months. Let us know if you'd like some.
Ballin Temple is a life laboratory for our exploration of system change technologies and offers a living work place to understand the kind of changes that are required to live with nature rather than consuming nature. The past year has seen developments in consciousness thinking which underline the importance of mental health. Unfortunately most of us are still insulated from the opportunity to change by traditional mindsets. But nature is acclaimed as a cure in so many articles over the past year. So build your immunity by getting in touch with nature.
If you want to get away but can't go abroad, consider a staycation at one of our holiday cottages. They are lovely, are fairly priced and offer immediate access to the special area of conservation on the Slaney. May can be the best month to visit since the weather is usually fine and bluebells an rhododendrons are bursting out in the woods and on the river banks.
Stay well and #LoveNature :-)
Pam and Tom
Farm, Garden, Sanctuary, River and Woods
A nature club for people who love nature.